Montreal: The City of Saints

Notre Dame Montreal

Considering how I was already in France for my business trip to Paris, a lot of people assumed I’d take a few days off and travel around France or Europe. You can imagine their surprise when I told them that I didn’t and instead flew back to Canada to spend the weekend in Montreal.

I already had plans to go to Montreal that weekend and it just so happened that it lined up quite nicely with my trip to Paris. It would’ve been nice to spend that extra time in Europe but hey, it is what it is. So that’s how I ended up going from the French capital of Europe to the French capital of North America.

Old Montreal
The streets of Old Montreal.

Montreal is a nice city. I’ve been a bunch of times throughout my life but the last time prior to this trip was back in 2013, so it’s been a while. And even when I went then, it was for an event so I didn’t really have much time to check out the city.

This time, the plan was to actually walk around and see what the city has to offer. It’s always kinda exciting to sight-see in another Canadian city because Canada is such a big country with so many things to see. It’s so cool to be able to fly to another place with different cultures, customs, and in this case, language, and still be able to find so much familiarity.

For example, I wanted to buy some stuff so I went and found a Shoppers and a Loblaws. In Montreal, they’re called called Pharmaprix and Provigo respectively, but they’re still literally the same store with the same layouts and products. It’s kinda cool.

Old Port of Montreal
A Ferris Wheel by a frozen river.

That level of familiarity makes Montreal a pretty comfortable place to visit. Despite being from a different city in a different province in Canada, I never felt like a true foreigner. It was kind of a nice feeling, especially when you contrast it with my experience in Paris where I felt like I was a total outsider.

Montreal is a francophone city and so the linguistic difference alone makes it a very different city to Toronto or Vancouver. That said, English is so widely spoken in Montreal that I never had a problem getting around or talking to people.

Really makes you think though. In the anglophone parts of Canada, you’d be hard-pressed to find a person that was actually bilingual in English and French. I mean, I’m living proof of that. I studied French for a solid nine years of my life and yet I wouldn’t be able to speak it to save my life.

In a way, it’s somewhat inspiring me to brush up on my French a bit.

Ice on the St Lawrence
Sheets of ice on the St Lawrence.

Considering how I was there in the winter, I got a chance to experience the fabled Montreal winter. The weather actually wasn’t that cold when I was there though, just barely below negative, but there was still noticeably more snow there than in Toronto.

I guess in a way that’s not too terrible because it means you could enjoy being outside without freezing your ass off. In general, it seemed like there were more people walking around the city than in Toronto. For example, we went to the Old Port and there were a bunch of people there just hanging out by the water or skating on some outdoor rink.

I literally cannot imagine people doing that here so it was cool to just walk around there. Plus, we saw a bunch of giant ice sheets floating around the St Lawrence which was kinda cool.

Mont Royal Skating
Outdoor skating on Mont Royal.

Outdoor skating seemed like a good idea so we also went to Mont Royal to both check out the view and to do some skating. The skate rink at Beaver Lake was kinda nice. I’ve always enjoyed skating and I honestly think outdoor skating is the best way to enjoy it.

There’s something about being outside that just beats any experience in an indoor rink in my opinion.

Mont Royal in general was also a pretty nice walk. The snow was nice and fluffy, the lights were nice and warm, and so it felt pretty comfy. We even saw a bunch of raccoons doing raccoon things too which was kinda cute.

Two Raccoons in a Tree
I thought raccoons hibernated in the winter.

At the top of the “mountain” is the Belvédère Kondiaronk. There was a plaque there that said that Mont Royal was the reason why Montreal is called Montreal. That was probably more interesting that the view, which was solid but really not that exciting. Really did make me wish that Toronto had a panoramic viewpoint of the city that wasn’t a condo though.

Another notable sight that I went and checked out was the Notre Dame. I couldn’t go into the Notre Dame in Paris because it was under reconstruction so the Montreal one was the first one I could go into. Despite that, I thought that I might’ve been hitting a bit of “church-fatigue” after seeing so many churches already in France.

But man, Montreal’s Notre Dame is really nice. The outside of the church isn’t that spectacular but the interior is really nice. The shrine is so intricately detailed and there’s this beautiful blue and gold colour that really stands out.

Notre Dame Montreal Interior
The inside of Montreal’s Notre Dame.

Another interesting thing is that the stained glass windows of the basilica doesn’t go over biblical events like every other church. Instead, it covers the history of Montreal and features key players like Jacques Cartier and the aboriginal people he met. That was pretty neat.

No trip to Montreal is complete without some solid food. Being the largest city in Quebec, there’s a lot of options for Quebecois food, the most famous of which has to be poutine.

I didn’t really know where to go for poutine so I just googled it and one of the recommendations was La Banquise, a diner known for their poutine and craft beers. We had to wait outside and then wait even longer inside to get a table but it was totally worth it.

There were so many different types of poutine and the portions were amazing and the taste was even better. Definitely one of the best poutines I’ve had in my life.

La Banquise Poutine
Bacon, hot dogs, mushrooms, gravy, cheese curds, and fries.

I’m also not really sure if this is a thing or not but I always think that Quebec is known for their breakfast/brunch diners. It might be because of Cora’s or something, but I’ve always had that association. We went for brunch one day as well and as you can imagine it’s just a ton of great food.

American diners are nice too but I think that they’re sometimes just too unhealthy. Too much grease and fried food. I’ve always thought that the French Canadian diners just seem to offer a healthier selection of food but also just keeps the calorie spirit alive. It’s nice.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in Montreal. It’s cool to be able to go somewhere that’s not super far from Toronto but still have such a different vibe and culture. I could definitely see myself spending more time there.

Author: Gary

Explorer, Creator, Gamer. #IDKAIST MSc and #UOITGameDev Alumni.

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